“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.’ This is the Lord’s declaration.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Context is king when it comes to understanding the Scriptures well. This morning we started talking about a popular bumper-sticker verse out of Isaiah and then talked about the different contexts we need to take into account when examining a particular verse. Let’s put all of that into practice.
So, what’s the truth here? Well, the context helps us see it. Let’s start big and get narrower as we go. This verse falls in the Old Testament document known as Isaiah. Tradition holds that it was written by the prophet Isaiah. This means that it falls under the auspices of the old covenant God had with the people of Israel. And Isaiah was speaking to Israel here. This means that as followers of Jesus, we have to be careful with simply grabbing and applying whatever it means directly to our own lives.
The reason for that is if you are a follower of Jesus, you have a different operating framework with God than Isaiah and his contemporaries did. God Himself hasn’t changed, of course, but His relationship with us has. Most notably, now, rather than the Law being the thing that governs the relationship, Jesus is its medium.
That just gives us the global picture. The national context is Isaiah’s prophetic record. Isaiah prophesied in Jerusalem during the divided monarchy and before the fall of the northern kingdom. As a cousin to king Uzziah, he spent a majority of his time in the royal court. The first part of his record focused mostly on announcing God’s coming judgment on the people for their sins.
Now, in the northern kingdom of Israel, things were pretty bad spiritually speaking. Externally, they were doing great. Jereboam II had led them to prosper economically and their military was strong. They were wealthy and secure. But they were actively worshiping idols, especially the god Baal. They were living in luxury while their foundation was actively decaying.
For the southern kingdom of Judah, things seemed better at a glance. They were wealthy and strong and Uzziah was a generally faithful king. Their problem was that they were more and more letting their relationship with God be something that affected their behavior, but didn’t touch their heart. They were going through the motions, but not really giving God the thing He wanted most.
In many ways, then, the judgment Isaiah prophesied came as a very much unwelcome surprise. If it was surprising at first, though, it quickly became depressing and even disturbing. Isaiah was talking about the Assyrians coming to town which would have been on a line with saying ISIS is coming to town. It was a terrifying prospect. It all would have left the people asking: What can we do? Is judgment simply our end?
Getting down to the neighborhood context, after spending quite a bit of time announcing judgment, at chapter 40, Isaiah shifted gears and started talking about God’s plans for redemption and restoration. He would send His servant who would suffer and die on their behalf, taking their sins upon himself in the process.
That all brings us to chapter 55 here. This verse comes in a context of God promising restoration to the people if only they would come to Him. His ways and thoughts are higher than theirs in the sense that He is willing to extend grace and forgiveness to them where they may not extend it to one another or even to themselves had they been in His position.
The words here aren’t simply intended to convey that God is better than us in some personally-determined way. They are saying that God is greater than us and what makes Him greater is His very willingness to forgive and restore where sin had separated and destroyed. The people were not to assume on the mind of God and simply give up on grace because of how utterly unworthy of it they were. His thoughts and ways were higher than theirs. They couldn’t guess at what He would do. They needed to repent and seek forgiveness and they would find out just what kind of a God He really was.
Living where we do on this side of the cross, we have seen what kind of God He is. We have seen the fulfillment of this promise in Christ. We have seen God’s thoughts and ways expressed graphically on the cross. His love for us is so big that He was willing to die in our place so that we can be restored to Him if only we would receive what He has offered.
This is powerful stuff, but it’s powerful stuff that only comes when we take the time to read with our eyes toward more than just the one verse in front of our faces. When you read the Scriptures, read them well and carefully, for there are riches to be mined if we are only willing to do the work.